Alabama football has a talented freshman DB, potential early starter in Brian Branch

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports
Alabama freshman defensive back Brian Branch defends a pass during a preseason practice in 2020.

The legend of Brian Branch at Sandy Creek High School in Tyrone, Georgia, started on his first play of high school football: a 48-yard punt return, two yards away from a touchdown. He was a freshman.

Not long after that punt return, Sandy Creek was without a safety for disciplinary reasons and turned to Branch, who shortly thereafter led the team in interceptions for a spell.

Three more years of impressive athletic feats followed — the kind of feats that leave no one surprised at Branch’s shot at immediate playing time at Alabama.

Branch was listed as a co-starter at the star position in UA’s secondary in its depth chart reveal on Monday. Even if Branch is not the starter at star, he could be a starter in UA’s dime package, which would lead to plenty of playing time as a true freshman.

“He’s not a good player, he’s a great player. A great talent,” Brett Garvin, Branch’s coach at Sandy Creek, said. “Apart from his physical talent, which is pretty much off the chain, his best trait as a football player is his IQ. Some kids just understand it the way coaches understand it. He sees it on the board and he can translate the board to the field very easily.”

That intelligence was on display immediately, when Branch started playing some safety as a high school freshman. Garvin is adamant there is no dumbing down of his system to help specific players – “If they can’t pick it up, we find somebody who can,” he says – and Branch was no exception.

Not long after, Branch started racking up incredible athletic accomplishments. Current Clemson running back Kobe Pace and Cedartown High School were marching down the field with a four-point lead late in the fourth quarter. In need of a defensive stop, Branch did much more: he returned an interception 95 yards for what was ultimately a game-winning touchdown.

As a senior, Branch was Sandy Creek’s kick and punt returner, No. 2 receiver and leading tackler, all while breaking the school record for interceptions. He played both cornerback and safety; in the third round of the playoffs he scored two offensive touchdowns, another on a pick-six and intercepted two more passes.

In a game against Cartersville, Branch played 183 snaps, including special teams. He was too valuable to take off the field.

He may also be too valuable to keep off the field as a freshman, especially at a position group of need where UA is losing three of last year’s five starters.

Even if Branch is not on the field early and often as a freshman, his teammates are confident in his future.

“Brian Branch is definitely a baller,” UA wide receiver Jaylen Waddle said. “I really like the way he competes. He is real physical and he is going to be a future star, definitely a household name.”

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson